There is a TED talk I have had to watch every start of the school year for the past 5 years. It is a retired teacher speaking about how teaching, and what stood out to her. This woman has years of inner city teaching experience. At one point she said “I told my students they were hand picked for my class, because they were the best, and I was the best teacher.” She said her student would walk more confidently because of that belief. Was it true that they were hand picked? No. Did it matter to them to think they were the best? Yes! At the end of the talk, the take away wasn’t to lie to your kids about if they are the best, but to believe in your students.
How does this relate to the title of this post? Because to belief in your kids is to make connections. These connections could be just making sure to say hi, but the really meaningful connections are when you text with your students years later to make sure they are taking the classes they need in college. When you meet up with them for dinner and hear about their wedding plans. When you send them pictures of your newborn baby and they respond by asking when they can come babysit for you! I feel like 18 year old boys being so excited they offer to babysit is the true sign you have made a real connection with them!
Can you connect with ANY student? What if you don’t have common interest? Or if they are a ‘lazy’ kid? I have talked about this in other posts, but create a common bond. Maybe it’s just checking in to see how their sports team did over the weekend, or asking how their weekend was. There is also no such thing as a lazy kid. There are kids who are lazy about doing homework, or about getting out of their seat. But there is no such thing as a ‘lazy kid’, therefore, no teacher should make that a criteria for which kids they connect with. The kids a teacher might label as ‘lazy’ might be the kid who needs your love and connection the most! These kids might be the ones who are not confident in school, and are choosing not to preform because they don’t think it matters.
Steps to connecting:
- Talk to them at least once a week. I don’t mean call on them in class (although that is best practice). I mean, really check in with them. What did they do over the weekend, or ask them what they had for dinner the night before. The simple act of pulling each kid aside for 5 min a week and talking can be huge! It can positively effect their school work, as well as their emotional well being. Even if that one kid isn’t your most likable, it will make a difference in their lives. And that is why most of us work with kids, right?
- Find out what they like, try to use that in teaching. If you are doing step 1, then you will have some idea of what each kid likes outside of school. Try to use that in your math word problems (Joey has $100 to spend on circus outfits, if each outfit cost….you get the idea). You can also give an open ended writing prompt, and suggest their interest if they are stuck on a topic. There are tons of ways in include student’s interests, and if you do it publicly, you will probably grow your connection with your kids.
- Call home to make a positive phone call (even if it’s just they were on time today!). Kids in grades K-4 love it when they find out you called home for something good. They will ask you to call over and over again! They will also keep doing that behavior. Once kids get to grade 5, they are not as outwardly excited that you called home. When I taught high school I used phone calls home as both a reward and a consequence. If they struggled to get to class on time, but were on time for my class every day in a week, I would call their parents right after they left my room, so they would be able to know about it before their kid got home. If they talked over me after 2 warnings, the student called their parents to let them know why the parent’s work was being disrupted. The kids who got the positive phone calls started doing even more positive behaviors. The kids who got the negative calls, started to shape up too. And I would always try to make a positive call home the next week for those kids! It even works with adults. My principal wrote letters to all the teacher’s spouses or important people one teacher appreciation week. That was one of the most appreciated I have ever felt! Make your kids feel important, call home!
- Keep a note sheet of what their plans are (in life, for school, for the weekend). If you are like most teachers or people I know, you want to remember every part of every conversation, but you don’t. I found keeping a page or two in my planner helps me to have a quick reference sheet before I talk with kids. I make this sheet at the beginning of each school year. It’s just list of kids names, and when I learn something I might need later (like what school is their dream school), I write it down! I can then quickly look it up before talking with them or before parent- teacher conferences.
- After they leave your class, make sure you have a way to keep in touch with them! This one is easy, ask all your kids to write their preferred method of contact on an index card. This could be a cell number to text/ call, an email. If the kid is still in your school district, you might already have their school email too. If you are working with kids under 18, also ask for their parents contact! You don’t want trying to keep in touch with your students to be an issue with parents. For kids under 18 I would also reach out to parents and just let them know you are asking their kids for contact info to keep in touch throughout their educational careers (this is just to make it clear why you want to contact their kids!).